Working hypotheses on “Quaedam participatio”

(Not all of these are equally hypothetical. Some I’ve researched, some I haven’t; some I have definite opinions on, others I don’t. I’m requesting comments on this.)

-Thomas uses quaedam participatio (QP) as a technical term.

-QP is unique to Thomas. Search Albert first for contrary evidence.

Participatio has its familiar Platonic meaning, but quaedam is an attempt to back off the full force of the doctrine. It’s participation that can be squared with Aristotelianism.

-QP looks a lot like what now gets called the analogy of being. For Thomas, analogy was always a way of naming that followed a particular way in which we come to know, but it is clear to everyone that this way of knowing was (often? In critical cases?) subtended by an ontology. We called the ontology “analogy” but we should have fleshed out the doctrine of QP.

-Participation is a real relation described or visualized as an activity. In QP, this relation is:

a.) Non homogenous. The terms of the relations do not share a common genus, either because they are in different genera (accident has a QP to substance, as does the human intellect to the angelic one) or because one is in a genus and the other is not (any relation of creatures to God).

Possible exceptions: True and false are analogues, but seem like they can be said of things in the same genus, though the false as such is an ens rationis and therefore in the real genus of relation.

b.) Asymmetrical: One would suspect Thomas to say that these relations are real when said from lower to the higher, but not real when said from the higher to the lower. The relation of A to B is “real” when A as A cannot exist without B (the word “real” might not have been the best choice, but it is what it is). Because God is invoked to explain existence as such, he cannot be viewed as dependent-in-existence on what he makes, even when considered as creator.  

c.) Immediate: The human mind, tellingly, has a QP to the angels and not to God alone. This seems to indicate that QP is a way in which the lower touches the higher. This suggests Dionysius as a source for QP, though definitely played in a thomistic key.

-But all those traits seem only to set up the crucial point, i.e. the way in which the lower term of QP really has some components or properties of the higher. Distinction: among things had by nature, some are had by gift and others are not. Nature is any intrinsic source of action or state of being, but this intrinsic source can be a sort of gift. The angel has its esse as a sort of gift and so has a QP to God, but its form/ intellect is seen as not arising in this way but as arising from an intrinsic-principle-not-by-gift. The human intellect, on the other hand, as intellectual form has a QP to the separated substances. While this does not mean that the human intellect is a gift from the angels (it isn’t) human nature has this intellect in the mode of a gift in a way angels do not.


  1. Loreen Lee said,

    March 25, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Am I correct, (I believe the source is nietzsche) that all human! language is fundamentally ‘analogy’… My understanding is that the intellect of the angels is a genus, and thus each angel, to be metaphorical perhaps, is the illustration of one genus of this ‘principle’ within intellect. Could any species of human abstract thought be considered as a kind of unrepeatable thesis… (am thinking of tautologies, yes empty – without reference to different sub-classes of species). Would/could a tautology be considered (even in it’s emptiness) to be ‘like’ the genus of an unchanging ‘angel’….Is it structure rather than analogy that is ‘fundamental’ to angelic thought… just guessing!!! hope to arise from my earthen mode, some day… will not be disappointed if anyone find this comment but another failure of adequate participation within the genders of intellect…. will just keep reading your posts. thanks.

  2. said,

    March 25, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    The Alberti Magni E-Corpus gives three results for “quaedam participatio” and one for “participatio quaedam”, all from one tract of Albert’s unfinished Summa Theologiae de mirabilis scientia Dei — on the angelic aevum. The Alberti Magni E-Corpus is very definitely not exhaustive of Albert’s works, but the result at least suggests the hypothesis that the original context for the notion of ‘quaedam participatio’ is the relation between aevum and eternity. (Since Dionysius influences that kind of discussion quite a bit, that perhaps tells in support of the notion that Dionysius is a significant influence on the notion of QP.) I can’t tell from Albert’s uses whether he is using QP in a technical way, though.

    ST 2-2.23.2ad1 seems particularly relevant to the question of how Aquinas sees QP in terms of its relation to Platonic participation; he’s a bit ambiguous there, but I read “Hic enim modus loquendi consuetus est apud Platonicos” as referring to Augustine’s language in the objection (not the previous sentence, as it is sometimes read), and, if that’s the case, it would be a sign that he takes QP to be a way to capture what the Platonists are trying to say while avoiding the errors he goes on to mention. If we read it as applying to the previous sentence, we would get the opposite result, with QP being simply treated as a Platonic way of speaking; but I think this is the less plausible way to read it.

    Over the past few days I was thinking about (a few of) the examples in your last post, and one thing that occurred to me is that at least a number of them are cases of I thought of as ‘grant or gift of imitation’ — i.e., in which one imitates another but the very capacity even to do so derives, in the imitation, from that other. This fits well with the general direction of your discussion of gift in the last paragraph, so perhaps my heading, independently, towards the notion of ‘gift’ is an indirect sign that the notion of gift, or something at least similar, really does seem to capture something of what is going on here, and it’s just a matter of pinning down the best way to characterize its role.

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